04/11/2010 11:00PM

Most Derby preps were below average


NEW YORK - Technically, the 2010 Kentucky Derby prep season is not yet over. Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Coolmore Lexington and even the Grade 3, $200,000 The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial and Grade 3, $150,000 Withers Stakes a week later could possibly produce a Derby starter or two, given the right mix of obsessed ownership and a colt just short in graded earnings.

When it comes to Kentucky Derby preps with real meaning, however, they were concluded this past Saturday. Oddly, the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby could prove to have very little impact.

Since the real prep season for the Derby is now over, it makes sense to go back and assess the final round of major preps, those nine 1 1/8-mile stepping-stones run in this country since March 20.

They could be broken down into groups of preps that are obviously important, ones that could maybe prove relevant, and ones that have no chance of being meaningful. Or, they could be listed in perceived order of strength. I decided to grade the preps like a report card. And no, I don't grade on a curve.

* Wood Memorial: Eskendereya's near 10-length romp in this cemented his status as perhaps the strongest Kentucky Derby favorite in many years. But beyond that, the Wood was also by a significant margin the fastest of the final round preps with a winning Beyer Figure of 109. Grade: A.

* Santa Anita Derby: Sidney's Candy won this in a romp, too, and given his bad trip, Lookin At Lucky lost little stature in defeat. And it seems pretty certain that these two will be the second and third choices in the Derby. With its winning Beyer of 100, the Santa Anita Derby was, surprisingly, one of only three final round preps to receive a triple-digit Beyer. But this race didn't tell us anything we didn't already know. We already knew Sidney's Candy could win controlling a slow pace. What we still don't know is whether he, like Eskendereya, can win rating off the lead. Grade: A-.

* Florida Derby: Ice Box and Pleasant Prince came from way back into an honest pace to be one-two, a nose apart, at 20-1 and 29-1. The form of this race took a hit when Pleasant Prince bombed in the Blue Grass, though how much that had to do with his switch back to Polytrack is anyone's guess. My judgment might be clouded by the fact that two of the last four Derby winners won this race. But they did so when the Florida Derby was run five weeks before the Kentucky Derby, and this year this race was, for reasons I still fail to grasp, moved to six weeks out. Grade: C+.

* Sunland Derby: Lots of people liked Endorsement's breakthrough in this race and how he walloped the previously undefeated Conveyance. I thought Endorsement fell into an absolutely ideal situation, stalking and then passing the distance-challenged Conveyance. That trip contributed to why he got such a high 101 Beyer. But, looking at the big picture, this race doesn't look bad compared to the other preps. Maybe I am grading on a curve. Grade: C.

* Blue Grass: I still don't know where Stately Victor came up with his overwhelming victory in this race at 40-1. But if you didn't know who Stately Victor was, you would be impressed with the way he won. Until, that is, you found out how soft the Blue Grass came up against the clock, and with a winning Beyer of 94, it came up really soft. Grade: D+.

* Arkansas Derby: Line of David upset this race at 17-1 in his first start on dirt to make it three straight wins since getting blinkers, and he did so after setting a strong early pace. But Line of David looked like he was done in upper stretch, and the only reason why he held on is everyone else was staggering even worse than he was. The final three furlongs of the Arkansas Derby was run in 38.62 seconds. I know that was after a solid early pace, and it's dicey comparing that to the final three-furlong times of the other final round preps because of the differences in relative speed of track surfaces. But this was the slowest final three-eighths in all nine final round preps, and that has to say something. Grade: D.

* Illinois Derby: On the plus side, American Lion got on dirt and was able to reverse a disappointing two-race slide he had in California. But while he might like dirt, the slow and uncontested pace American Lion was able to get away with was partly responsible for his Illinois Derby win. And as slow as he went early, he didn't come home all that fast. Grade: D.

* Louisiana Derby: The problem with this prep, won by Mission Impazible, was the same as the problem with the Arkansas Derby - it was a stagger fest. The final three furlongs in this race was run in 38.25, which enabled Mission Impazible to out-grind a questionable router in A Little Warm and the one-paced Drosselmeyer, and it came after a moderate early pace. Grade: D.

* Lane's End: There are a handful of reasons to grade this prep harshly. With a winning Beyer of only 93, it was the slowest of the nine final preps. The winner, Dean's Kitten, was beaten almost 34 lengths by Eskendereya in his only start on dirt, the surface he will run on in the Kentucky Derby. Runner-up Northern Giant came back to finish last in the Arkansas Derby. The only reason why this doesn't get a failing grade is lightning might strike on Derby Day and Dean's Kitten might be given a pass to cut through the infield and win. Grade: D-.